How a former football player views the decision to cut the program and where he’s at now.
Azusa Pacific University’s decision to cut the football program in December 2020 was a devastating blow to the students, faculty and coaching staff. However, none were affected more than the players themselves. Now a junior at APU, Jayden Khneiser was one of the many players that would have their lives changed in an instant.
Originally from Riverside, Khneiser entered his senior year of high school without many offers on the football field. After attending a recruiting camp held by APU where he was introduced to coaches and players, Khneiser acquired his first offer.
“Once I finished camp, I got recruited and came on my visit. I just fell in love with the campus and atmosphere and the people,” he said. “After my first visit, they offered me, and later that day I committed to APU.”
During APU’s remote 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Khneiser lived on campus with other student-athletes. The football team was not able to compete because of the pandemic, but members of the team still held workouts with some of the coaching staff. The workouts consisted mainly of conditioning, weightlifting and limited position work in alignment with COVID-19 restrictions.
Khneiser says he had no indication the program would be cut during his first year. “Coming in as a freshman, I didn’t know anything because I wasn’t really getting recruited. I guess it was talked about during the school year, but nobody was talking about it until the day they cut it,” he said.
Unfortunately, news of the cut reached Khneiser via social media before the coaching staff broke the news at the meeting.
“Two hours before our meeting a Facebook reporter published this thing saying, ‘APU football rumored to be cut,’ and that’s how I found out,” he said. Khneiser was reluctant to believe the news but entered the meeting with caution.
The meeting with coaches, players and the athletic office took place on December 15, 2020. Athletic Director Gary Pine led the meeting and explained to the team that given the university’s current financial situation, the football program would, unfortunately, have to be cut.
At the time, APU was the only division two football team in California and relied on out-of-state travel for many of their games. Given this, the cost of travel to states like Washington, Colorado and even Michigan became too great of a financial burden for the university.
After the program was cut, many players transferred and coaches relocated to pursue football opportunities at other schools. Like his teammates, Khneiser had offers to go elsewhere and continue playing the game he loved.
“I was talking to at least 40 schools. They were at a level I know I can be good at, but I knew what I was getting myself into at APU,” he said.
Khneiser decided to remain in Azusa and honor his commitment to the school. “I honestly couldn’t let go of the love I had from the school,” Khneiser said.
Family and faith were other reasons why Khneiser stayed at APU. Transferring to play football would mean leaving California. “My dad was on his own spiritual journey [at the time] and he convinced me to put myself in a position to take responsibility and go to church and chapel,” he said.
Khneiser also wanted to become more than just a football player. “Playing football for about nine to ten years makes your whole personality a football player. I wanted to be more than that,” Khneiser said. Becoming bigger than just an athlete is a testament to his friendly, easy-going personality.
In the absence of football, Khneiser found athletic opportunities on the rugby team last year and, most recently, the track and field team. Although he enjoyed playing rugby, he felt he was using the sport to fill the void of football. As a member of the track and field team, Khneiser realized how much he missed having a team of brothers, and now sisters, as his family and teammates.
As far as his former coaching staff, Khneiser says he doesn’t have much contact. “I haven’t talked to any of the coaches. We still have a group chat where people will pop in and say ‘what’s new,’ and I feel like even though we didn’t get much time together, we bonded,” said Khneiser. Regardless, he still expresses thanks for the coaching staff’s support and love for their former players.
Two years after the decision to cut the program, Khneiser still has mixed feelings about the way things went down. “I wouldn’t say I’m bitter, but I can’t say I’ve come to peace with it. Playing football for that long, you’re not going to, in an instant, stop loving it,” he said. Sometimes he even struggles to watch football because it reminds him of what was.
Despite this, Khneiser remains happy with his decision to remain at APU. The friends he’s made and the experiences he’s had here would be hard to replicate if he transferred elsewhere. As a first-generation college student, he remains motivated to succeed academically. “I want to break the cycle of people in my family not being anything,” he said.
Khneiser, an interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis on liberal studies and psychology, wants to become a high school football coach and teacher to give back to the sport that gave him so much. “My goal is to do the best I can and to be the best person I can be,” said Khneiser.